Highwayman’s charge ‘for entertaining’
Beaconsfield historian Donald Stanley takes a look at the area’s links with crime and the law – and discovers that it has strong connections with both sides of that equation
ONE OF Beaconsfield’s oldest buildings was associated in the 1600s with a famous highwayman and, 200 years later, with two long-serving and highly respected law firms.
Situated astride the road from London to Oxford, Beaconsfield was a coaching stop which attracted not only travellers but highwaymen who plied their trade in such places as Cut Throat Wood on the wooded hill between Holtspur and Wooburn Moor.
The white bow-fronted building in London End, then the Crown Inn, was reputedly a haunt of highwayman Claude Duval, a man noted for his gallantry and courtesy.
Born in Normandy in 1643 he was brought to England by one of the exiled aristocracy who returned upon the restoration of Charles ll.
By 1666, he had become a highwayman with a reputation for avoiding violence.
One story concerning his behaviour is that once a lady in a carriage he had stopped started to play a recorder-like instrument to disguise her fear.
Duval is reported to have produced his own flageolet (a woodwind musical instrument) and, having danced with the lady, escorted her back to her coach where he relieved her husband of £400 – a huge sum in those days – as payment for the `entertainment’.
Eventually Duval was caught and sentenced to death despite the efforts of `ladies of quality’, several of whom, wearing masks, attended his hanging at Tyburn in 1670.
The Crown Inn was later divided into two residences; the larger named Burke House, the smaller Burke Lodge.
The larger was lived in by one of the ladies of the prolific Charsley family.
Amongst those for whom she provided a home, one went on to join the family law firm which for much of the 1800s practised from The Elms opposite.
Burke Lodge became the residence of James Gibson who joined the Charsleys as a partner.
In due course he set up a practice of his own under his last two names – Baily Gibson – next to The Elms until his son moved it to the New Town.
James Gibson’s wife, Ethel Rigby, was a formidable lady in her own right.
Having cycled across much of eastern Europe `as it was the easiest way to get around’, and scored a century at Trent Bridge as one of a women’s team against an all male team, she settled for being a country solicitor’s wife confining herself to being a tennis coach to the Astors at Cliveden with her son, later a Tennis Blue and successor to his father’s practice, as ball boy. OH YAY, the clocks have gone back, an extra hour of sleep.
That phrase has never been uttered by a parent of a young child – unless said child has been fitted with an anti-early waking device from birth. Quite unlikely!
The notion that the aforementioned parent can effectively retire and collapse into bed an hour earlier at this time of year, is also a misconception made by many.
There are chores still to be done, and let’s face it, we have all sat there mildly excited like a schoolchild that although it’s 11pm, it’s really only 10pm, meaning staying up longer is a viable option, whilst ignoring the fact completely that the mini human early morning alarm system is yet to be put through military style super nanny sleep training.
Of course, this complete flaw in the art of mastering the parenting sleep combo isn’t realised until the morning of the first child inclusive time change.
So it’s bleary-eyed movie watching or puzzle completing in the lounge downstairs in order not to wake mum/dad (delete as appropriate as to who has been successful on claiming this weekend’s lie-in).
Even if they are old enough to adhere to the toddler targeted colour-changing morning versus night-time clock, they can be heard being deliberately restless, or as in our household, a little face will appear by the bedside, too cute and fresh faced to turn away.
Sssssh! Just don’t wake up the other children!
The autumn and winter cross over is therefore a parade of parents sporting the washed-out tired look, usually reserved for brand new parents unaware of the continual sleep deprivation style torture that awaits.
Gone are the days where this clock change meant an extra hour of drinking, dancing, socialising, having fun and uninterrupted catch up sleep! The non-child approach to life at this time has its appeal.
So, with the winter time change here, it is now an official point to note that we can now hibernate with the log fires, hot chocolate and comfort food.
Who needs an extra hour of morning light in any case?
Change it back already!
A painting by William Powell Frith is reputed to show Claude Duval dancing with the lady whose stagecoach he had held up near Beaconsfield. Gallant or not, Duval was hanged at Tyburn Hill after a four-year career as a highwayman. Below, The Crown Inn (latterly Burke House) a frequent haunt of Claude Duval